Displaced South Sudanese women leave a makeshift camp in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) base in the town of Bentiu, South Sudan, Sept. 22, 2014 (AP photo by Matthew Abbott).

JUBA, South Sudan—South Sudan is in crisis. Following the outbreak of a civil war almost a year ago, the country has been devastated by widespread violence that is both politically and ethnically motivated. The international community’s ability to stop the violence rests in large part on the shoulders of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), a peacekeeping operation with a mandate to use force to protect civilians. In order to protect people under the threat of violence, UNMISS needs to be perceived as neutral so that it does not become a target itself. The stakes could not be […]

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu listens during a security conference in Moscow, Russia, May 23, 2014 (AP photo by Pavel Golovkin).

On Nov. 20, Russian Defense Minister Gen. Sergey Shoigu visited Islamabad along with dozens of other Russian officials and signed an unprecedented Russian-Pakistan defense cooperation agreement. While in Islamabad, Shoigu also engaged in wide-ranging discussions with his Pakistani counterpart, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, on Afghanistan, regional security, arms sales and other issues. In so doing, Shoigu became the first Russian defense minister to visit Pakistan since 1969, when the Soviet government made an unsuccessful effort to mediate tensions between Pakistan and India. Since then, relations between Moscow and Islamabad have been atrocious, in part due to the close and enduring defense […]

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to Mali President Boubacar Keita on the sidelines of the U.N. Chief Executives Board meeting in Washington, D.C., Nov. 21, 2014 (U.N. photo by Eskinder Debebe).

Does it matter who runs the United Nations? There was a frisson of excitement at U.N. headquarters at the start of this month when a consortium of advocacy groups launched a campaign to overturn the “outdated and opaque” process for selecting the secretary-general. But at a time when increasing global divisions threaten to reduce the U.N. secretariat’s ability to improve international cooperation, there are questions about how much impact the post can really have. The current secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, steps down at the end of 2016. As I have previously argued, Ban took far too long to find his feet […]

Smoke rises from the Syrian city of Kobani, following an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition, seen from a hilltop outside Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border, Nov. 17, 2014 (AP photo by Vadim Ghirda).

This week, military planners from more than 30 countries are gathered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, to plot their approach against the so-called Islamic State (IS). On the other side of the world, IS is probably mulling its strategy as well. It is easy to imagine how different the two sessions must be, yet the two groups do have one thing in common: Both know that if their strategies are to work, they must first try to get inside the mind of their enemy. Anticipating what the enemy will do—what security experts call “red teaming”—is never easy, […]

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon, Nov. 14, 2014 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently announced a pair of important initiatives, one to restore the Defense Department’s troubled nuclear enterprise to health and another to spur innovation within the department. The two initiatives are necessary, if incomplete, but achieving both goals will difficult. Hagel’s proposed overhaul of the Defense Department’s management of its nuclear weapons enterprise is long overdue. The U.S. nuclear command’s core components, besides the actual warheads, include the Air Force’s nuclear-capable bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and the Navy’s ballistic missile submarines as well as the supporting infrastructure for the entire system. It also […]

United Nations special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, speaks during  a press conference in Damascus, Syria, Nov. 11, 2014 (AP photo, released by the Syrian official  news agency SANA).

Is the United Nations heading for another diplomatic humiliation in Syria? Over the past week, analysts have been picking over a proposal by the organization’s envoy, Staffan de Mistura, to initiate a series of local cease-fires between the Syrian government and at least some rebel groups, beginning in the embattled city of Aleppo. In a best-case scenario, these “incremental freeze zones” could coagulate into a wider cessation of hostilities, allowing all parties to focus on the main fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS). The plan has received some slight encouragement from the Syrian regime and a great deal of […]

Fighters from the so-called Islamic State (IS) during a parade in Raqqa, Syria, undated photo (AP photo, Raqqa Media Center).

Last week, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-declared caliph of the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, was reportedly wounded or killed in a U.S. airstrike. At this point is hard to know exactly what happened. After all, one of the big disadvantages of air power when it is used against insurgents and terrorists is that it is hard to gauge the actual impact on the ground. But even if this attempt to decapitate the extremist movement failed, the United States will certainly keep trying and eventually succeed. Given the utter barbarity of IS, no one on earth deserves […]

French President Francois Hollande inspects arms confiscated from ex-Seleka rebels at a French military base in Bangui, Central African Republic, Feb. 28, 2014 (AP Photo/Sia kambou, Pool).

Despite a cease-fire in July and a United Nations mission in September that raised hopes of restoring order, the crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) flared up again last month. The conflict originated with the rise of the Seleka, a predominantly Muslim insurgency that launched in December 2012 and overthrew CAR’s President Francois Bozize in March 2013, a decade after Bozize took power in a military coup. After presiding over mass violence and internal displacement, Seleka leader Michel Djotodia was forced to resign from the presidency in January 2014 at a regional summit in Chad. But interim President Catherine […]

Houthi Shiite rebels ride in a military truck while patrolling a street in Sanaa, Yemen, Oct. 27, 2014 (AP photo by Hani Mohammed).

One look at a map of the Middle East shows why Yemen, a small country bereft of wealth or natural resources, has the potential to create serious problems not just for its neighbors but also for the global economy. Tiny, impoverished and turbulent, Yemen has escaped the spotlight mostly because the troubles in other parts of the region look more acute and more urgent. That, however, is likely to change. Over the past couple of months, the ground in that arid strip on the edge of the Arabian Peninsula has shifted. In domestic terms, what has unfolded is a sudden […]

Moroccan King Mohammed VI waves to the crowd as he stands in a limousine during a ceremony of allegiance, at the king’s palace in Rabat, Morocco, July 31, 2014 (AP photo by Abdeljalil Bounhar).

Last week, Morocco announced that it would increase intelligence and military support to the United Arab Emirates, ramping up its involvement in the coalition against the so-called Islamic State (IS). This should come as no surprise, as Morocco has been the target of threats by IS, and is also keen to maintain its position as a reliable Arab partner and funding recipient for the United States and Gulf powers against terrorism. Morocco is technically part of the 60-nation U.S.-led coalition against IS, but is listed with the likes of Tunisia, Portugal, Mexico and others as having an unspecified commitment. Beyond […]

A Chadian soldier patrols the streets of Gao, northern Mali, Jan. 29, 2013 (AP photo by Jerome Delay).

In recent years, Chad has begun to emerge as a regional leader in Africa, playing a role in the 2012-2013 Mali conflict, contributing to the overthrow of President Francois Bozize in the Central African Republic and forming a significant military partnership with France in 2014. However, these signs of power mask an ongoing political stagnation in Chad and the failure of the government to make any serious improvements in living conditions for the vast majority of the population. Frustrations with how oil money has failed to deliver economic development, along with power struggles at the heart of the Chadian government, […]

Border of the U.N. buffer zone in Nicosia, Cyprus, Oct. 1, 2008 (photo by Flickr user peatc licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license).

Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos has announced that he will visit Turkey later this month. That comes after Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades suspended peace talks with northern Cyprus last month when Turkey declared plans to search for oil and gas off the southern coast of the island. The island of Cyprus has been divided since 1974 between the predominantly Greek Cypriot south and mainly Turkish north. Only Turkey recognizes the latter as an independent country. The United Nations has maintained a peacekeeping force in Cyprus since 1964, the longest-running U.N. peacekeeping operation in existence. There was optimism for a long-sought […]

The newly appointed Georgian Defense Minister Mindia Janelidze with Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili at a news conference in Tbilisi, Georgia, Nov. 5, 2014 (AP photo by Shakh Aivazov).

The abrupt firing of Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania last week has triggered the country’s most serious political crisis since the Georgian Dream-led coalition government came to power in October 2012. The departure of Alasania, popular at home and widely respected abroad, has raised questions about the durability of Georgia’s pro-Western foreign policy. But although Alasania spearheaded badly needed reforms in the Defense Ministry and was regarded as a guarantor of pro-Western policies within the coalition, his departure is unlikely to disrupt Georgia’s foreign policy—for now. The immediate origins of the crisis were the arrests of senior Defense Ministry officials […]

Pro-Russian rebel military vehicle with Russian flag on top of it rolls towards Donetsk, Eastern Ukraine, Nov. 10, 2014 (AP photo by Mstyslav Chernov).

There were signs of easing tensions in some parts of the international system last week, but warnings of deepening crises on other fronts. It emerged that U.S. President Barack Obama had sent a private letter to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urging greater cooperation in the fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq. China and Japan agreed to step back from confrontation over the Senkaku Islands, claimed by Beijing as the Diaoyu. But Ukraine accused Russia of new military incursions on its territory, increasing the chances that the parlous cease-fire in the east of the country will […]

Iranian soldiers, center in white, are welcomed by local officials and armed forces at the border with Pakistan in Zahedan, Iran, April 6, 2014 (AP photo/Islamic Republic News Agency, IRNA).

Tensions between Iran and Pakistan rose last month after Sunni militant insurgents that Iran claims are based in Pakistan conducted a series of attacks on Iranian government installations and personnel in the restive, impoverished border province of Sistan-Baluchistan. In response, Tehran threatened cross-border raids in Pakistan if Islamabad failed to act against militants targeting Iran, and then followed through, killing one Pakistani paramilitary officer on Oct. 17. Flare-ups along the Iran-Pakistan border, which spans the ethnic area of Baluchistan, are not new, and when they happen, both Tehran and Islamabad often work quickly to de-escalate. And so Iranian and Pakistani […]

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov addresses the media at the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in The Hague, Netherlands, March 24, 2014 (AP photo by Yves Logghe).

Russia’s decision to skip the first planning meeting for the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) is an alarming sign that U.S.-Russia tensions over Ukraine and other issues may disrupt their nuclear security partnership. At best, the Russian decision may simply reflect an attempt to signal irritation at the U.S. by disrupting one of Washington’s highest priorities, that of countering nuclear terrorism. At worst, it may represent a decision to boycott the entire NSS process simply because the United States is hosting it. In either case, the Russian decision is extremely counterproductive. In the short term, it risks sabotaging the tacit […]

U.N. peacekeepers of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) patrol the Golan Heights, April 7, 2011 (U.N photo by Wolfgang Grebien).

It is a truth universally acknowledged, at least among American political analysts, that the struggle against violent Islamist extremism is back in play as an organizing principle in international affairs. The Obama administration may have hoped to wind down the “war on terror,” but it is now engaged in open-ended if limited military operations in Syria and Iraq against the so-called Islamic State (IS). This conflict will shape Washington’s relations with regional powers including Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia, although it is still unclear that the U.S. can balance their competing interests. But this new phase in the fight against […]